If you had to speculate, by how much do you suspect interactions between wholesalers and financial advisors decreased over the past three years? 15%? Perhaps 25%?
In reality, according to insights from our ZS-led consortium of asset managers, total activity was down 45% across all channels by the end of 2022. And despite hopeful expectations, virtual engagements were unable to offset plummeting in-person meetings and calls.
This engagement decline has serious consequences. We found completed sales activity was down a full 50%, which increases the cost of every advisor touchpoint and adds risk that meetings are netting negative returns.
Three insights stand out that highlight how wholesalers struggle to engage with advisors, based on our analysis of consortium data through the end of 2022:
- Virtual meetings, while far more frequent than a few years ago, decreased by 46% from their peak in the third quarter of 2020. They are a complementary form of engagement, not a replacement for face-to-face promotion.
- Advisors are increasingly less interested in phone calls, putting relentless pressure on internal wholesalers to find ways to connect and create value.
- Advisors welcome in-person meetings—they increased by 62% over the course of 2022 (see the figure below)—but they were still down 49% from pre-pandemic highs.
All of this adds up to wholesalers finding it difficult to reach the same number of advisors as they did before COVID-19. In fact, we discovered wholesalers reached 25% fewer advisors by the end of 2022.
Can asset managers reverse course? For inspiration, we looked at another industry ZS knows well: pharmaceuticals.
Despite dealing with many of the same challenges during the pandemic as asset managers (such as fewer in-person meetings and mixed remote engagement results), pharma has been able to adapt and continue to connect with its audience.
Like asset managers, pharmaceutical companies also experienced decreased access to their audience, reduced activity with that audience, and a rise and fall of virtual video engagements.
Between the first and second quarters of 2020, engagements between pharma and healthcare providers fell 70%. But since then, engagements recovered to just 30% lower than the first quarter of 2021. This was an impressive recovery after an engagement decline that was even more drastic than what we experienced in the financial services industry.
How did pharma turn the ship around? By identifying and acting on observed changes in healthcare provider preferences. After learning that healthcare providers had an increasing affinity for digital engagement, pharma companies began executing new outreach plans that included:
- Digital touchpoints: A large increase in digital touchpoints led to higher engagement with providers.
- Personalized content: Personalized digital content stood out as a key differentiator, as it garnered about double the engagement of non-personalized content.
- Redefining the sales role: Pharmaceutical companies began redefining salespeople as connectors of value for healthcare providers, rather than simply drivers of value.
As asset managers strategize about how to increase engagement between wholesalers and advisors, our review of both ZS consortium data and data related to pharmaceutical industry engagement enables us to offer these three recommendations:
1. Re-evaluate strategy
Taking the pharmaceutical industry as inspiration, asset managers should step back and ask: What is the best way to use the capabilities we now possess, given what we know about advisors? This question has led some pharma companies to redefine sales roles and break down silos between marketing and sales planning.
Asset managers too should shift away from siloed activity goals for each business function—like increasing email click rates or sales calls—and instead define strategic objectives for each advisor segment. These can include the breadth of products used, share of wallet accomplished, level of loyalty and more. Achieving transformative objectives will likely require different, more valuable distribution approaches. These enhanced strategies will inform the level, allocation and variety of investments made across your advisor universe.
2. Reimagine engagement
We have seen very real shifts in the number of reachable advisors, how frequently they are engaged, and the volume of meetings and calls wholesalers can achieve. These are changes to core assumptions that underpinned how existing teams were designed and built.
With these notable shifts, we must accept that longstanding team structures are now outdated. New engagement strategies must challenge preconceived team structures, roles and how territories are designed while mirroring how each advisor is willing to engage. Taking a page from pharma, asset managers should use advisor-level engagement preference data to classify traditionalists verses digital-adopters and then deploy sales and marketing resources accordingly.
Shifts in advisor preferences must also inform how we adjust wholesaler books of business. Actions needed could include modest adjustments like removing inaccessible advisors from external books of business or expanding internal books to account for lower access rates. More substantially, they could also include a complete overhaul of the external, internal and hybrid model.
3. Redefine expectations
To support new distribution models, asset managers must move beyond outdated, activity-centric wholesaler performance expectations and toward a model where success is measured by the ability to execute strategies and achieve goals set for each advisor and segment.
We recognize that because of refined advisor preferences, the measure of “good” productivity has fallen between moving goal posts over the years. However, the emergence of new go-to-market models necessitate enhanced perspectives on how we define top performance.
Wholesalers will work across personal and digital channels to deliver the right content, insight and guidance to create value for strategically defined objectives. Performance management and incentives must reflect these new ways of working.
More than three years since the start of the pandemic have passed, and it seems fair to say advisor engagement has fundamentally changed. Although recent data shows wholesaler engagement continues to slowly rebound, with fewer reachable advisors and less productive wholesalers, it seems the traditional model may never yield the success it once did.
Still, there is a path forward.
Rather than trying to do more of the same, we look forward to asset managers embracing an omnichannel model based on evolving advisor access and affinity preferences. Now is the time for our industry to adapt and reimagine advisor engagement.